October 26, 2010

LePage homestead exemption ruled legal

Acknowledges care of parent

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA — The homestead tax exemption claimed by Ann LePage for a property in Florida has been deemed legal, according to a letter from the Volusia County property tax appraiser released Monday.

click image to enlarge

This property at 558 Woodgrove St. in Ormond Beach, Fla., was purchased by Ann LePage in December 2008. (Photo by Audrey Parente, The Daytona Beach News Journal.)

Audrey Parente, The Daytona Beach News Journal

Ann LePage is the wife of Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, mayor of Waterville.

“Everything is on the up and up,” said Morgan Gilreath, property tax appraiser for Volusia County, in an interview. “The wheels grind slowly, but they grind and I believe that the right thing has been served throughout this whole process. It was certainly an application that deserved looking into and we did that and it’s passed muster.”

Paul LePage, in a statement released by his campaign, said Florida officials were now backing up what his family claimed in the first place.

“Tax officials in Florida have verified what we have said all along,” he said. “They have closed their investigation.  The homestead exemption on the Florida property that Ann bought to care for her mother during the winter remains in effect.”

A preliminary investigation by Gilreath determined that Ann LePage had been improperly granted the Florida property tax break in 2009, because she was already receiving a similar exemption in Maine. The tax breaks in both states are typically only granted to homeowners claiming the property as their primary residence.

But, as reported previously by MaineToday Media, Florida law does have an exemption for homeowners receiving the credit in another state if the Florida residence is ‘the permanent residence of another legally or naturally dependent upon the owner.’

Gilreath had initially said in a letter to Ann LePage sent in September that there was no allegation on her Florida homestead application that this situation existed, so he called it a “moot point.”

Further investigation by Gilreath proved otherwise.

“The truth is, she did buy the home because of her mother. Our determination is, based on that paragraph — that they bought that house for her mother, who is legally and naturally dependent on them — that that’s a valid homestead exemption,” he said. “The medical records clearly document back to 1997 her mother’s condition and her continued condition and deterioration. Paul and Ann LePage clearly showed her mother as a dependent for the years 2008 and 2009 on their IRS tax returns. Her application is approved under that paragraph. “

When the issue of dual homestead exemptions was first brought up to Paul LePage, he cited his family’s role in caretaking of Ann LePage’s mother as the reason for the Florida house.

“It’s all about my mother-in-law’s health; my wife goes and cares for her and she comes back in the spring,” Paul LePage had said at the time.

Ann LePage, whose name is on the property deeds for both a home in Waterville and Ormond Beach, Fla., had also repeatedly said she bought the Florida house for her mother, Gilreath said.

“I did say that was not mentioned in the application in my letter to them, but (Ann LePage) had already raised the question of buying the house in order to take care of her mother;  and that, in fact, is what that exclusion was written into law to cover. It’s just the number of people who might apply under those circumstances has apparently not gotten to the level of getting the forms altered to include it.”

Gilreath said he had no regrets with the steps his office had taken, which included sending Ann LePage notification in September that she had 30 days to pay back about $1,400 worth of back taxes and penalties.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “It certainly appeared on first blush that it might not be a valid application. If I was predisposed to do anything when the investigation started out, I didn’t see any way in the world that this could be a valid application, but I hadn’t dealt with this circumstance before.”

LePage admitted that receiving the Maine homestead exemption was granted in error, but said the issue had been properly addressed.

“In Waterville, we had a simple paperwork error resulting from a twelve-year-old filing that had been forgotten,” he said in the statement. “In September that paperwork was corrected, we paid the $227.93 in taxes owed to the city and we have asked city officials to remove the homestead exemption from our Waterville home.”
Rebekah Metzler — 620-7016

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